How can my spouse and I come alongside our teenage son and daughter as they encounter instances of gender confusion in their public high school? Believe it or not, a couple of such cases have come to light during this past academic year. One of them involves a close friend of my daughter, who now identifies as a boy and wants to be treated as one. On the surface, my kids are trying to "be cool" about the whole thing, but I can tell that it has thrown both of them for a loop, each in a different way. My son in particular appears to be struggling with some deep-seated anger. We'd also like to know how to respond to school officials who seem to be promoting the idea that changes of this kind are normal and ought to be taken in stride. Can you help us out?
You're probably right in assuming that your teens are struggling with their feelings about this situation. Change is difficult for all of us, but it can be especially challenging during adolescence when kids are in the process of making adjustments to new developments in almost every area of life. That's not to mention that, no matter what school officials or the surrounding culture may say, it is rightly disconcerting when a close friend or acquaintance suddenly decides to try to alter his or her gender. Accepting change of such a dramatic nature is never easy, and the popular notion that kids and culture need to break down their sensibilities and simply learn to take this in stride as the "new norm" is not wise advice. Therefore, we suspect your son and daughter could use some helpful input and sensitive coaching right now.
You can assist by sitting down with them and gently encouraging them to talk. Ask them how they feel. Help them identify their emotions and process their thoughts. Create a safe context in which they can pause, slow down, and voice their reactions without fear of being corrected, contradicted, or reprimanded. Realize that all of this is going to take time – lots of it.
If your son is feeling tempted to slip into an angry, hostile, or condemnatory attitude toward his sister's friend, remind him that this approach is inconsistent with Christian principles and values. Talk with him about compassion, true tolerance, and the unconditional love of Jesus Christ. Encourage him to read John 8:1-12 and help him understand how Christ cares about people no matter how they struggle.
You didn't provide any details about your daughter's reaction, but we can't help wondering if she has adopted a more "tolerant" or accepting attitude toward her friend's new identity. Your reference to "being cool" could be taken this way. If that's the case, she needs your help and understanding every bit as much as your son does.
It's easy for teens to get drawn into the "postmodern" mentality that says truth and morality are relative. This philosophy can be especially attractive when peer pressure and the dynamics of close personal relationships are brought into play. If your daughter is drifting in this direction, you'll want to give her plenty of opportunities to decompress and vent her feelings. Be a good listener. Ask her some key and thoughtful questions – for example, "How do you think transgenderism fits in with God's design for human sexuality?" Don't censure or contradict her. Instead, encourage her to commit the matter to serious prayer and thought. Remind her that Christ-like tolerance always strives to balance love with an appropriate emphasis on moral truth. This means respecting God's design for humanity, which is best for human thriving and betterment.
You also may want to spend some time talking with your teens specifically about the divine plan our Creator put in place for human sexuality and marriage. Above all, clarify the point that He meant men to be men and women to be women. If you need help preparing for this discussion, we highly recommend that you visit Focus on the Family's website and take a look at our series of articles on the topic. We think you'll find the first installment, "Male and Female He Created Them: Genesis and God's Design of Two Sexes," especially helpful. In addition, you may want to peruse "Talking to Your Children About Transgender Issues."
With regard to your concerns about discussing this situation with school officials, we'd advise you to handle this piece of the puzzle with great care. After processing your own emotions and ensuring they are under control, take time to research and understand the school's protocol. Equip yourself so that you'll be ready to counteract any bad information distributed to students by the administration. Focus on the Family maintains TrueTolerance.org, a website designed specifically for parents who need help responding to homosexual and transgender activism in their child's school. Among other useful features, it offers talking points you can use to express your faith-based viewpoint. It also lists do's and don'ts for approaching school officials. As a matter of fact, it contains lots of practical advice. It even provides prepared memoranda from legal experts on the importance of respecting religious freedoms and parental rights. You can email the legal information and other professionally packaged data directly to your educators from the Take Action center on the website. "Equipping Parents to Respond to Gender-Confusing Messages in Schools" and "Empowering Parents: A How-to Guide for Protecting Your Child's Innocence and Your Family's Values in Public Schools" may be useful as well.
Remember to be as diplomatic and non-confrontational as possible in your dealings with the school staff. If the conversation is to include any vitriol or hostility, let it come from their side of the table. Show respect and appeal to reason and logic. At the same time, stay true to your convictions. In everything you do and say, model a Christ-like attitude. Conduct yourselves as ambassadors for Christ. We may not be able to avoid coming across as an "aroma of death leading to death" in the nostrils of people (II Corinthians 2:16). But that shouldn't happen because we're intentionally offending others with our responses and behavior.
If you feel it would be helpful to discuss these recommendations at greater length with a member of our staff, don't hesitate to give us a call. Our counselors would be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone. You can contact our Counseling department for a free consultation.